-- Last month, criminal defense attorney Barry Wm. Levine found himself trying to win the release of a man who shot, and nearly killed, a United States President -- his client, John W. Hinckley Jr. Now, Levine could face another daunting, high-profile challenge.
Levine appears on the notice of arraignment filed with the U.S. District Court as the lawyer for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who was indicted last week on bank fraud charges related to paying someone to conceal “prior misconduct.” Sources knowledgeable of the case told ABC News Hastert was paying a man hundreds of thousands of dollars to hide that Hastert had engaged in sexual misconduct with him while serving as his teacher and wrestling coach decades earlier.
“This is not someone who always takes on the easy cases,” said David Sokol, who retained Levine in 2013 when federal agents were investigating accusations made by his former boss, Warren Buffett, that he had engaged in insider trading. “We were up against a formidable foe, and he was not the least bit intimidated.”
The Hastert case, still in its earliest stages, and Levine’s exact role remains unclear – he could be lead attorney or just a stand-in who appeared on forms while Hastert retains different counsel. The uncertainty is likely to continue as Levine and his client remain in a proverbial bunker, with the two saying nothing as rumors swirl about what secrets may lurk behind government allegations that Hastert made cash withdrawals, totaling $1.7 million, and then paid the money in small increments to an unnamed victim.
Neither Levine nor his partners as the Washington, D.C. firm Dickstein Shapiro have returned repeated calls and emails. Hastert worked as a lobbyist at the firm until he resigned after the new allegations came to light.
Levine's past clients and legal experts said if Levine is indeed stepping in as Hastert’s lawyer, his priorities are straight -- Levine will sort out the legal matters first, then worry about reputational damage to his client.
“It makes a lot of sense for him to keep his powder dry,” said Robert Bennett, a renowned criminal defense attorney in Washington.
Levine has not been afraid to speak out on behalf of a clients in the past. Two years ago, Levine represented Robert “Bud” McFarlane, the one-time National Security Adviser who was accused – and later cleared -- of allegations he secretly lobbied the U.S. government on behalf of Sudan. After federal agents searched McFarlane’s apartment, Levine came out swinging.
“He has devoted his entire adult life to the interests of this country, and he cares deeply about the people of Darfur,” Levine told The Washington Post.
Levine was equally vocal when Sokol was publicly cleared of allegations initiated by Buffett. Levine told reporters then his client was not only innocent, "He is the paragon of rectitude."
And in court earlier this year, Levine was pushing a federal judge to show mercy for Hinckley, who would be the first potential presidential assassin to be released from custody should Levine prevail. Levine has led the effort to see Hinckley freed after more than three decades of confinement in a D.C. mental facility, arguing he no longer poses a threat.
Levine told a federal judge there is no disagreement that Hinckley's psychosis and depression are in "full, stable, sustained remission," and that any slide back to depression would be "gradual and . . . detectable," according to published reports. "Every witness agrees that he is ready, and every witness agrees that the risk of danger is decidedly low," Levine said.
The matter is now before a federal judge.
Sokol said Levine can be incredibly persuasive. But he is not surprised the counselor has remained silent in the face of the accusations against his potentially newest client now.
“When you’re accused it’s on Page One. Unfortunately that’s the world we live in,” Sokol said. “Because of that reality, Barry has to be first and foremost on defending the criminal allegations. Reputation can be restored. The truth always gets there.”